Monday, September 7, 2009

The two best sounding Stratocasters I ever heard


The year was 1984, and I was playing in an original blues rock band in Houston called The Students. The guitarist for that band, Mikey Ray, had a pawn shop find of a 1964 Stratocaster that he had gotten for about $500. His other guitar was an early 1980's Tokai reproduction Stratocaster.
The Fender, obviously, was pure vintage at that time, and sounded better than any Strat I have heard before or since. Good wood perhaps, and a good neck, and likely some pickups that were wound "just so" with just the right kind of magnets and wire. Whatever it was, I've heard other 64's and they just couldn't come close.
But one other guitar Mikey Ray had came close to sounding as good as that '64 Strat. It was an 1980's Tokai replica, from Japan. Lots of rumors have gone around about the late 70's and early 80's Tokai's being made from NOS Fender Stratocaster components, and I'm not sure I believe those rumors. But again, they set out to duplicate the Stratocaster in every way with that particular model, and did a great job. I tend to believe that guitars that sound good have well wound pickups, a nice resonant wood body, a good bridge and tuners and a nice neck. The Tokai had it all, and time after time, folks around Houston heard that Tokai and just thought it was grand, even folks who were playing real 1950's and 1960's Stratocasters.
But alas, in 1985 both guitars were traded to another friend of mine who owns a vintage guitar shop. The Lake Placid Blue 1964 Fender went straight away to Stevie Ray Vaughn, and I don't know where the Tokai went. I just wish I had possessed the sense to buy BOTH of those guitars from Mikey Ray.
Mikey Ray, at the time, was transitioning from a style similar to Clapton and Beck to a more hyper-kinetic Eddie Van Halen style. The Eddie style required "shred" guitars, and I'm sad to say that the two best sounding strats ever were traded for a couple of Charvel guitars and some kind of shred amp.
Those were the days, though. Mikey Ray would play those two Strats through a twin Fender Bassman setup. He had some sort of device made by dbx that split his signal into a stereo signal, which in turn fed each of the Bassman amps, each loaded with 4 ten inch speakers. Mikey would use an MXR distortion pedal, an Ibanez Tube Screamer for solos, and a wah pedal of some kind. But the sound he got was just fantastic.
I've played with a few folks in the intervening years who love the early Tokai Strats. I've yet to find one that sounds like I imagine that old sunburst Tokai sounded 25 years ago, but I'll keep looking. I know where two are that sound pretty dang good.

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